EGYPT: Sexual harassment becoming a feast tradition?


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Culling sheep for charity donations, spending time with families, going out for long walks in parks until early hours in the morning have all been signs of celebrating the Adha and Fitr holy feasts in Egypt, but another more troubling pastime has arisen in recent years: sexual harassment.

The Egyptian media reported that about 300 cases of sexual harassment against women occurred over the recent Adha holiday. The cases, which the Interior Ministry would not confirm or deny, varied from verbal taunts to assaults. Al Destour newspaper said the number of incidents was higher than what was reported during the Fitr feast in September.


Sexual harassment in Egyptian cities has become an disturbing phenomenon of late. It recently became associated with feast holidays, where thousands enjoy spending their free time outdoors. Younger generations face less-strict scrutiny from their parents, who tend to allow their daughters to go out without parental supervision during feasts. Police security is usually softer than it is throughout the rest of the year.

The biggest incident came during last year’s Fitr, when 150 men and boys were arrested for going on a harassing spree in the streets of Mohandeseen in Cairo. A few of the defendants, who assaulted girls and cut their clothes, were taken to court and one was sentenced to a year in jail.

The number of harassment cases during the feasts echoes a study carried out by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) last July, showing that 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign females residing in the country reported being harassed.

Egypt’s penal code sets imprisonment punishments for anyone who sexually assaults minors, but many assaulted women have seen their cases blocked as judges and prosecutors blamed similar incidents on the ‘provocative’ way some girls are dressed. But the ECWR’s study refutes such allegations, saying that 71.5% of women who reported sexual harassment were wearing veils (head scarves) and non-revealing clothes, and 19.6% of them were even wearing niqabs (face veils).

There are indications the courts are growing less tolerant of sexual harassment. In a landmark case in October 2008, a man was sentenced to three years of hard labor for reaching out his truck window and groping Noha Rushdi Saleh, a documentary filmmaker.

The harassment issue is believed to be related to some religious and economic aspects in Egypt. Premarital sex and dating are forbidden by the Islam, and with the country’s tough financial times, millions can’t afford to get married. Mistrust of the government and a sense of powerlessness has caused widespread disenchantment, especially for a young generation of men with limited opportunities.

‘Our young boys don’t have anything to fill their lives except TV and the internet. Now we have this problem of late marriage. When you combine it all, you will have social problems like harassment,’ says philosophy professor and former dean of Al Azhra University Amna Nosseir.


-- Amro Hassan in Cairo